Nick Cushing hopes City’s sheer determination to preserve a clean sheet in the Champions League semi-final draw with Lyon will not be in vain.
The Blues produced a superb team display to deny the reigning European Champions an away goal at the Academy Stadium, handing themselves a precious advantage to protect in France next weekend.
Cushing spoke of his pride for the way the hosts battled valiantly and upheld their values, but asserted his side still face a difficult test to earn progression to a first Champions League final. As underdogs however, he added his side can approach the clash without pressure.
“It’s definitely what we wanted, especially after the first leg last year,” he told press. “We wanted to get a positive result and not concede an away goal.
“To get a 0-0 draw is definitely a positive result, especially against a team like Lyon. We know the quality they have and the success they’ve had.
“We denied them any kid of rhythm and momentum. We knew before the game that if we did that, their attack would become direct. We’ve watched them and they do have a threat in Ada Hegerberg aerially as well as threats in Eugenie Le Sommer, Delphine Cascarino and Shanice van de Sanden as wingers. We know they can go direct. That helps because we know we can defend against that but as you saw: they’re good players and still create offensive moments.
“We were pleased with our press. We have days now to look at it. The result means it’s a one-off semi-final now next week. We’ll try and deny Lyon as many offensive moments and try to create.”
Pressing high and defending magnificently, City’s collective display earned deserved acclaim from the City faithful after the final whistle. Cushing also hailed the Blues’ tactical play and dedication.
He continued: “We’d spoken a lot in the prep that we expected to be put under pressure. I’d said in the press conference before the game that to get a good result against Lyon, our two central defenders and goalkeeper would have to play exceptional games. That happened when we played in Lyon last year and it happened again.
“The gameplan for us is always to press high. We believe: if we can put teams under pressure, not only will we deny them rhythm, but we will get more offensive moments when we win the ball in areas where we can try and create and score. That happened.
“The effort of Izzy Christiansen, Nikita Parris and Mel Lawley, playing higher up and putting pressure on, was fantastic. They ran their socks off. We asked for commitment, dedication and complete full effort. We got that.
“I simply said to the players after the game that they did what we asked for: they delivered. The fans will be really proud of them and the staff that have watched the game for Manchester City will be proud. What they’ve seen is what they all want – complete effort, dedication and passion, and a real will to win.
“We probably could have scored in moments. Yeah, we were put under pressure but it’s a one-off semi-final now. We have the luxury of a rest now – a free week before the return game and we have the experience of beating them in Lyon and the possibility of an away goal.
“It will be difficult 100% but those things might just swing in our favour.”
Goalkeeper Bardsley produced a magnificent display, despite a length absence from the starting line-up.
Cushing expressed his admiration for the England shot-stopper’s professionalism and quality.
“Her performance impressed me but didn’t surprise me,” he reflected. “I know the level KB can play at. This year, she’s been disappointed with injuries she’s picked up and she’s not been able to get much momentum.
“I get that people outside out our dressing room will perceive that we play Ellie Roebuck over Karen because KB is #2 and Ellie is #1 but it’s a competitive position. KB has proved she can go in and play well and Ellie has had really good performances. That shirt is there to be won. I thought KB took her opportunity and played very, very well.
“Football is a squad game. Trying to win Champions Leagues and leagues, getting to Conti Cup Finals, Champions League semi-finals and FA Cup semi-finals, and playing so many difficult games, you need a squad of players who are together and a squad of players who are hungry to take their chance. I’ve said it before: competition for places breeds consistency in their performance. That showed.”
Asked how City will approach the second leg, Cushing replied: “We can’t reinvent ourselves. You could see in the game against Lyon last year, we were disappointed after the home leg because we didn’t apply our beliefs and concept of how we see the game being played. Then, we changed a little bit and we did. We won the game.
“Our press was exceptional and our build-up was very good against really good players. Can we be more offensive? Of course, but we know the area we need to improve in. We’ll go and play the game. It helps being the underdog. We’re the underdog. No-one expects us to win. It’s almost a free game for us now – we can go there and play free and be brave and take the game to Lyon. We have a possibility of getting to a final and we’ll take that.”
Cushing also reserved praise for the fans, as a crowd of 2,876 turned out to cheer on the Blues.
“The fans are excellent,” he smiled. “Every time we get a big game here and we get a big crowd and it’s noisy, the atmosphere is exceptional and the players love it.
“It does draw a good performance out of the players. For the last 15-20 minutes, were under pressure but the crowd were singing and clapping.
“That definitely gives the players an extra lift to try and get a positive result.
“We’ll take the five or six days of rest we have now before the Lyon game and we’ll use it as productively as we can.”